Waiting at BC Children’s Hospital while her daughter had brain surgery wasn’t exactly the way Tiffany Jorgensen had hoped to spend their Christmas Eve.
Four months prior, Macy Sales, Tiffany’s daughter, was a two-and-a-half-year-old who didn’t like to play and always felt tired and sad. “She woke up one morning and was shaky and wobbly,” Tiffany says. “I thought it was an ear infection so I took her to see our GP.”
The family doctor suggested she give Macy some Advil, but it didn’t make the toddler feel better. When a pediatrician saw Macy, she asked Tiffany to take Macy for an MRI right away. Three days later, at BC Children’s Hospital, doctors found a four-centimetre tumour inside Macy’s brain.
“It was a complete shock, to say the least,” Tiffany recalls.
Macy underwent surgery to remove the tumour and spent a week and a half at BC Children’s to recover. After the procedure, things looked up. Tiffany says Macy was doing the best she had ever been and, during winter when there was snow, she actually wanted to go out and play.
Then, the bad news came. Macy’s tumour had grown significantly in the months following her procedure. On Christmas Eve in 2013, Macy was admitted to BC Children’s again for a second operation, just four months after her first.
This time, Macy didn’t recover as well. She didn’t wake up for days and had a bad case of hydrocephalus – the fluid in her brain wasn’t flowing properly. A shunt was inserted permanently into her brain to help drain the fluid.
Macy began her chemotherapy treatment in January 2014. Mother and daughter live in Williams Lake, a six-hour drive from Vancouver, so caregivers at Children’s gave them the option to receive treatment in Kamloops or Prince George – both just three hours away from their home town. “I have an aunt in Prince George so that was more convenient for me,” Tiffany says. “If anything happened, Macy, my other two daughters and I could at least stay with her.” Other times, Tiffany’s daughters would stay with their grandmother in Williams Lake while she took Macy for treatment.
Closer locale offered the family some respite. “Now it would just be a one-day visit,” Tiffany says of their trips to Prince George. “We would start at 6 am and leave by 6 or 7 pm. Macy would sleep for the entire three hours on our drive back because she’s so tired from her treatment, so it becomes a very relaxed day.”
While “relaxing” may not be how most parents would describe a 12-hour outing with a four-year-old, it’s understandable when compared to the two-day trips the pair, along with Tiffany’s two other daughters, had had to make to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Thanks to the support of Child Health BC and OFG, many families like Tiffany’s get the care their child needs closer to home, at a child-friendly pediatric ward at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. The ward provides specialized child health services, including care in pediatric rheumatology, neurology, endocrinology and oncology.
Subspecialists from BC Children’s Hospital travel regularly to the hospital to see children living in Prince George and surrounding communities; they would also collaborate and share knowledge with the local caregivers on how to best care for these young patients.
“Everyone is so incredibly supportive,” Tiffany says of the Prince George caregivers. “They all treated Macy very well.” She remembers a particular incident that stood out for her. “Because chemo is very toxic and would make Macy throw up, she wasn’t allowed to play with other kids in the playroom,” Tiffany says. “Knowing this, the nursing team there turned a teen lounge, which wasn’t used very much, into a private playroom just for Macy. It was amazing.”
Since Macy needs an MRI every three months, all of Macy’s follow-up care is done at BC Children’s. But of Macy’s 42 chemo treatments, she was able to undergo 37 in Prince George.
Macy completed her last chemo treatment on April 2, 2015. She’s doing well; her energy level is high and all of her MRIs have come back clear. At the end of treatment, caregivers at BC Children’s gave Macy a Courage Award to recognize her for all the hardship and obstacles she’s overcome. “She’s so proud of [the award] and she would tell everyone about it,” Tiffany says with a laugh. “She would tell people, ‘Did you know I got a trophy because I won chemo?’”